Just as all your hard work begins to pay off, it seems the rug is being pulled out from under you. The marketing and public relations efforts are going well, your technicians are booking up fast, and the staff is working as a cohesive unit. Then, wham, it hits you. An unexpected long-term vacancy in staff. What will you do? Will the clients keep coming? And when will this valued staff member be able to return?

Initially there will be questions. Questions about scheduling, client reactions, and just how much information to share with the clients. Taryn Lorent, the owner of Aurora Spa, in Wescosville, Pa., encourages salon owners and staff members alike to “stay calm and relax — everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it may not seem so at the time, but the situation may be for the best in the long run.”

Often, the biggest concern is loss of income in the salon. “If the absence is planned, have the technician look at her client roster and help choose which staff member will best be able to serve each client. “The technician would know about personalities and technical skills needed to keep clients happy,” points out Charlene Abretske, a business advisor with Your Beauty Network, based in Carlsbad, Calif.

Independent nail technicians or booth renters can partner with other nail professionals to set up a system where they can help cover each other when needed. This can help protect the clientele of all involved. “I don’t know if you are ever really prepared fully,” says Lorent, who advises owners and managers to maintain contact with people who can be on standby on an as-needed basis. You should always have someone to fall back on. “Take time to view the situation. Don’t just hire anyone to replace or fill in for the absent technician.”

Chanel Henry of Naya Spa Sanctuary in Newport News, Va., recently took a two month leave of absence. She was able to train someone to handle her duties. “I made sure I got in touch with clients and suppliers. My replacement knew the services inside and out and could handle most issues,” she says.

When to Share

“It’s important to protect the privacy of employees,” says Cynthia Thorp, a disability advocate. “Employees should document and keep records from their doctors if the leave is medical in nature. They should also keep the employer apprised of the current situation. Communication is very important when issues or questions come up.” Abretske says it is appropriate for the salon to share a general explanation of the situation only if the technician chooses. If approved by the employee, “the salon could collect cards and well wishes from clients.”

“Find out what type of help you can give to the employee as an employer if it is a long-term illness or disability. There may be information regarding insurance, the Family Medical Leave Act, or disability benefits that apply to the employee that you are legally required to provide them with.”

Long-term absences reinforce the need for salons to recruit new talent even when they may not have an immediate opening. Constantly being on the lookout for technicians not only offers an opportunity to expand, but also keeps the names and contact info close at hand for likely candidates in case of an abrupt opening. If a manager has a stack of recent applications, it is much easier to start on the task of finding a temporary or permanent addition to the salon. The upside is that taking on a temporary replacement gives the salon an opportunity to get to know a technician before making a permanent addition to the salon — something that is done in many other industries.

Sudden changes in the salon can be scary. Take a deep breath. Now, let it out. Relax. With some forethought and planning, yours or the extended absence of a trusted employee does not have to be a disaster.

Emergency Funds

None of us plans to get sick, but it happens. The same is true with accidents and any number of things that could keep you out of work for weeks or more. Whether it’s a bundle of joy or a disability, sooner or later we or someone we know will be faced with an absence.

“Several years ago professional financial planners were recommending an emergency fund of three months’ salary. It quickly went to six months, and now with the economic uncertainty, many advise 18 months or more of backup,” says Cynthia Thorp, a disability advocate and the president of Disability Planning of Virginia. “Whether you are the employee or employer it is important to start planning now. If you get into a financial crunch while out of work, talk to your banker or financial planner about the options you have in accessing your financial vehicles such as individual retirement accounts, etc.”

What If It Happens To You?

As an independent technician, employee, or booth renter, the impact of an absence lands squarely on your shoulders. Gina Cella Szollosi, a tech at MOD, a salon, in Akron, Ohio, has lots of experience in dealing with extended absences. “It’s hard no matter what the reason for being away from the salon. I was away for two weeks to work Fashion Week, and most recently, I needed to be away for seven weeks for school.” She shares some tips for surviving the absences and returning to the salon:

> Move as many appointments as you can yourself. Emphasize to the client that it is only temporary. This helps her put it in perspective and lets her know you plan to return. Try not to dump all the work on the front desk staff.
> Be totally open and honest with the salon owner. Relate the nature of the absence. Some absences could be beneficial to the salon (education, publicity, etc.).
> Recommend someone in the salon to take care of your clients.
> If there isn’t someone else in the salon, try to bring someone in to take care of things while you are gone.
> Get control of your emotions. Your clients don’t need your issues and stress. Get in the right frame of mind when you return to work.
> Plan out your financial obligations before a situation arises.

“It really is your responsibility to help get clients taken care of. The worst feeling is having a client show up, not knowing you aren’t there. It’s important to connect with them so they don’t have an unpleasant surprise,” says Szollosi. “Clients will do a lot for you if they feel you have their best interests at heart. You have to show them this from the beginning. I knew going into my current salon there would be times I would be away as an educator and had to plan for them.”